Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Richmond Theatre

“We can’t make piracy pay”

Gilbert and Sullivan’s titular buccaneers may struggle with a lack of a ruthless edge but Sasha Regan’s sharp eye means that piracy definitely pays as her all-male interpretation of The Pirates of Penzance enters a fifth year of swashbuckling success. From its initial run at the Union Theatre in 2009 and subsequent transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall, it has toured Australia, played the Hackney Empire and now returns for a UK tour which runs through to the end of June.

And getting to gaily tread the measure one more time was indeed an especial pleasure once again. In the august surroundings of Richmond’s Victorian theatre, the set design may look a little spare but once the stage is filled with heaving bodies – whether preening with piratical glee, gambolling in corsets or patrolling a policeman’s lot, or indeed all three at the same time, the musical spectacle of these eighteen lads, plus pianist, is quite something to behold.

From Neil Moors’ strapping Pirate King to Alex Weatherhill’s long-suffering Ruth, Samuel Nunn’s walking paradox Frederic to Alan Richardson’s would-be coquettish Mabel, it’s hard not to tumble hard for their collective charms and though the emphasis may be more on the comic side, there’s still real emotion that comes from Weatherhill’s impassioned pleas in ‘Oh! False One…’ and Richardson’s fetching falsetto. Dale Page, Chris Theo-Cook, Richard Russell Edwards and Ben Irish make a bonny bevy of frisky sisters too, never protesting too much at the sudden arrival of so many men.

Regan’s production revels in the comic detailing though – the policeman’s moustaches, the Major-General’s horse, the response to “homely face”, petticoat hoops going awry, there’s not an opportunity for a gag wasted anywhere. Lizzi Gee’s choreography has an infectious humour about it and I was pleased to see that the aisles are still used to allow maidens to climb their rocky mountains and policemen to use their cat-like tread well before they hit the stage. Well worth walking the plank for. 

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 18th April, then touring to Theatre Royal, Winchester; Bath Theatre Royal, Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford; East Riding Theatre, Beverley; The Spa, Bridlington; Theatre Royal, Brighton; Exeter, Northcott; Arts Theatre, Cambridge; and Hackney Empire

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